The future is arriving quickly. There’s already been talk about how COVID-19 has accelerated automation, and some jobs will be changed if they come back at all. There’s no doubt the recent pandemic is shaping how we do business, from restaurants and retail spaces to even how we manufacture goods. And with many states reopening in phases, or just outright reopening, what does “getting back to business” look like as we forge ahead?
The supply chain gets a wakeup call
During the pandemic, shortages of masks and hand sanitizer rocked many supermarkets like Walmart and Costco. With such a quick spike, and having such a large gap to fill in the supply chain, distilleries stepped in with safe, alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Clothing companies engineered their manufacturing process to make masks out of spare materials. Auto manufacturers teamed up to help produce ventilators. The list goes on.
One of the biggest attributes many companies needed to stay successful and stay in business? Flexibility. When stay-at-home orders went into effect, businesses had to figure things out overnight. That included a new way to make goods that people desperately needed.
The upside? Now you can see hand sanitizer in repurposed liquor bottles at many grocery stores across the U.S.
But all of this was a symptom of a larger issue.
“Early on, much of the economic impact that companies in the U.S. experienced were related to supply-side disruption due to shutdowns in other countries,” said Thomas Hartland-Mackie, President & CEO of City Electric Supply. “This pandemic has highlighted the danger of over-relying on a single manufacturing hub as well as a need to diversify sources to include local or domestic suppliers.”
With global trade, a smooth-functioning supply chain doesn’t exactly impact manufacturing. That is, until it gets rocky.
As a few supplies, like masks and hand sanitizers, reached mass critical demand all around the world, they plunged in availability. Hospitals, frontline workers, and more were left without protective gear required to safely do their jobs.
At the time, when these supplies were almost impossible to locate, domestic-made products were a necessity. They were easier to source and easier to ship when time was more important than ever. This could be the wakeup call manufacturing needs to move a little closer to home instead of relying on centralized factories on the other side of the world to fill gaps in the supply chain.
With this catastrophe still fresh in the minds of many businesses and governments, various shock scenarios will have to be considered more heavily to help rebuild the supply chain for a more resilient future.
The businesses that figured out how to stay connected with their customers, whether they were operating in a limited capacity or having to put business on hold completely, were the ones that added to their digital currency. But for most small businesses, digital currency could only take them so far. That meant developing alternative revenue streams to help them stay afloat, even if they were designated as essential businesses.
Restaurants and bars regularly teamed up with delivery services to help them maintain some cash flow during the lean months, including online ordering and curbside pickup. Personal trainers and fitness studios went digital with their classes to help keep their clients working out and to help keep their brand top of mind.
Other companies went a step further and identified gaps in the supply chain to fulfill in meaningful ways. As we mentioned before, distilleries helped make safe, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and clothing companies reengineered their manufacturing process to make masks out of spare materials.
All of this helped these businesses either keep cash flowing into the business, or at the very least, kept them in the minds of their customers long enough until they could reopen. From creative online solutions that let them continue operating to doubling down on marketing efforts to keep in touch virtually, the ones that stayed flexible and stayed connected weathered the pandemic better than others.
But also, what about the flood of statements from companies preaching togetherness in the first few weeks of the pandemic? Did that help customers feel more connected to their favorite businesses? Hartland-Mackie certainly thinks so.
“We’ve all heard those jokes about how people are receiving too many long emails from businesses explaining what they’re doing in response to COVID-19, but the reality is that customers appreciate it,” said Hartland-Mackie. “Customers want to hear from the companies they are loyal to and be reassured – as long as it is authentic – that businesses have their customers in mind as they make decisions.”
Remote work is not remote
Working in offices could be a thing of the past. Already high-profile companies like Twitter have announced indefinite work-from-home plans for their employees, and more will probably follow their lead. In an age of digital nomads, this could be a huge selling point for attracting talented workers.
When the pandemic first started, many companies had to figure out how to work 100% digitally practically overnight. This involved utilizing web-based communication programs like Skype, Zoom, and Slack to ensure teams were in constant communication with each other when it mattered most. Now, with some offices opening back up, some employees could be receiving more lenient work from home policies, or, at the very least, there may be less face-to-face meetings in the workplace.
Another huge benefit to remote working becoming more commonplace? (Aside from less meetings, of course.) Embracing the all-digital transformation can boost productivity. Now with a lot of the same information freely available for employees to do their job, there should be less presentations sharing known information across the company. Now, only vital information can be created and shared, freeing up more resources to resolve the most critical issues at hand along with more focused daily agendas.
It’s not delivery, it’s curbside pickup
Well, it’s a little bit of both. For essential businesses that couldn’t take advantage of “contactless” delivery, the next best bet was curbside pickup.
“As a federally designated essential business, City Electric Supply branches have stayed open, but we needed to provide ways to keep customers and employees as safe as possible. We began offering curbside pickup and it’s been so successful that we’ve received feedback from customers asking us to continue it as an ongoing service,” Hartland-Mackie said.
What was once seen as an added-value service was the main way for many businesses to maintain cash flow when customers were no longer allowed inside. And with the latest reopening efforts, some customers are still opting for curbside pickup in lieu of shopping themselves.
With how convenient curbside pickup is for keeping in-store capacity low — and for saving the time of customers who no longer have to spend time shopping or even getting out of their vehicles — this could soon be the new normal for many businesses.
Whether or not customers should receive temperature checks has been up for some debate, but temperature checks of employees are being implemented in almost all states in various industries, including food service and healthcare. Even though workers could be asymptomatic, it still helps cut down on cases progressing to severe stages and worsening infection rates.
This has also had a snowball effect on various other issues related to work policies, from sick leave to hazard pay. Most employers are erring on the side of caution, allowing employees to stay home if they or someone they come into regular contact with have health issues that put them at risk of infection.
With daily operations coming under such a heavy microscope, this means that even employers are examining how existing sick policies have hurt more than helped. If more lenient and flexible policies have not already been put in place, expect it to happen as phased reopening progresses.
Brad McElory is a Copywriter at City Electric Supply